Welcome to Edition 2.20 of the Rocket Report! This week we have not one, but two stories about a company that wants to launch Ukrainian-made rockets from Canada. And if that duo wasn’t iconic enough, new-space company Firefly and decidedly old-space company Aerojet Rocketdyne are considering a partnership.
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Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Rocket Lab has a plan to fly lunar missions. Rocket Lab announced that, with its “Photon” upper stage, its Electron rocket will be able to send small payloads all the way to lunar orbit. With Photon, Electron could send up to 30kg into lunar orbit and be available as soon as the fourth quarter of 2020, Ars reports. As for pricing, it was not disclosed.
… “Small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon,” Rocket Lab head honcho Peter Beck said. “They play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions. We think this could be useful for CubeSat science around the Moon or possibly communications relay capability on the cheap.” (submitted by 3ch0 and ADU)
Firefly considering AR1 engine for its Beta rocket. Firefly Aerospace has said it is collaborating with engine-maker Aerojet Rocketdyne to increase the performance of its upcoming Alpha launch vehicle, and the company is also considering Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine for a future launch vehicle, SpaceNews reports. In a statement, Firefly CEO Tom Markusic praised the AR1 as an engine well suited for Beta but stopped short of saying the engine’s selection is a done deal.
… Markusic: “Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine, which incorporates the latest advances in propulsion technology, materials science, and manufacturing techniques, is incredibly well-suited to power Beta given its cost-effective, high-performance capabilities.” It is not at all clear to us how close Aerojet is to completing and qualifying the AR1 engine. It also seems like Firefly should get Alpha up and running before it worries too much about the larger Beta rocket. (submitted by Unrulycow)
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DARPA launch contest down to one. A three-way launch contest is now down to one unidentified company after two competitors backed out, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said this week. DARPA said its Tactical Technology Office will continue the challenge early next year even though Vector and Virgin Orbit subsidiary Vox Space reversed course, electing not to participate. This leaves only one company (a “stealth” competitor believed to be Astra Space), SpaceNews reports.
… The competition requires a company to conduct two launches, weeks apart, from two different launch sites. “As indicated in the quickly narrowing field of competitors, responsive and flexible access to space remains a significant challenge,” Todd Master, program manager for the DARPA Launch Challenge, said in an agency news release. “Future warfighting needs will require true space resilience, the ability to put assets into orbit quickly and from a variety of locations. It’s a fundamental shift from a strategic use of exquisite space assets to a more tactical future.” (submitted by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)
Reaction Engines’ heat-rejection system passes key test. Reaction Engines’ precooler has successfully run at Mach 5 temperatures, validating for the first time the capability of the novel heat-exchanger design to operate at hypersonic flight conditions, Aviation Week reports. The company wants to use the lightweight heat exchanger to boost high-speed turbojets for supersonic and hypersonic vehicles as well as for developing the company’s Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine, which is targeted at low-cost, repeatable access to space.
… Describing the test result as a “major moment in the development of a breakthrough in aerospace technology,” Reaction Engines CEO Mark Thomas told the publication, “We are seeing significant interest from a range of potential customers and technology partners.” This test addresses one of several development risks for what would be a revolutionary, air-breathing rocket engine. (submitted by DougF)
Germany may build spaceport, small rocket. In comments during the last week, German officials expressed a desire for the country to get into the business of launching small satellites, Deutsche Welle reports. The influential Federation of German Industries, known as BDI, said the government should invest more in space development to match peer countries, such as France. Presently, Germany collaborates with France, Italy, and other European nations to launch payloads from a launch site in French Guiana.
… The BDI urged the German government to support construction of a private spaceport on German soil (likely for polar orbits from the country’s coast on the North Sea). Politicians should also facilitate development of a German-made smallsat rocket, the organization said. A couple of days later, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier signaled that the government will indeed consider building a space-launch center.
Korean company aims for a 2020 launch. A largely unknown Korean startup backed by Samsung is preparing to launch a small orbital rocket next July, SpaceNews reports. Perigee Aerospace of Daejeong, South Korea, has raised around $12 million from Samsung Venture Investments, LB Investment, and others to develop the “Blue Whale 1” rocket.
… The Blue Whale 1 (an interesting name for a rocket of this size) is capable of carrying 50kg to a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit, CEO Yoon Shin told the publication. Shin said Perigee Aerospace has had sufficient funding to develop the very small rocket, allowing the company to operate in stealth mode until getting within a year of launch. As always, we watch the smallsat-launch industry with interest. (submitted by Ken the Bin and Unrulycow)
Would you buy Virgin Galactic stock? Beginning Monday, shares of Virgin Galactic will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange, CNBC reports. The company will trade under the symbol SPCE.
… After a merger with a holding company, Virgin Galactic will become the first publicly traded company involved directly in human spaceflight. We’re eager to see how the stock performs. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
ESA seeks to advance reusable engine development. The European Space Agency will ask its 22 member states next month to fund an additional two to eight Prometheus reusable engines so that the agency can further the engine’s development, SpaceNews reports. ESA, with prime contractor ArianeGroup, has two Prometheus engines being built at present.
… Jérôme Breteau, ESA’s head of future space transportation, said at the 70th International Astronautical Congress this week that those two engines are on track for test firings in late 2020 at the German Space Agency DLR’s Lampoldshausen facility. ESA will continue engine tests into 2021. The goal is to be able to build the engine for 1 million euros each, about one-tenth the price of the Vulcan engine used on the first stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket. (submitted by Unrulycow)
Cyclone-4M completes upper-stage test. Maritime Launch, a Canada-based company, is working to bring the medium-lift Cyclone-4M rocket to a launch site in Nova Scotia. On Monday, the company announced that the Cyclone-4M’s “fully integrated” second stage had completed a full-duration test of its upper stage in Dnipro, Ukraine. Over the course of two tests, the rocket’s upper stage engine burned for more than 800 seconds.
… The Ukraine-build Cyclone-4M rocket combines a liquid-fueled first stage with a solid-fueled upper stage. The company says development of the LOx/RP1 first stage is continuing, with an anticipated first launch of the rocket in 2021 from a spaceport in Canso, Nova Scotia, in 2021. The rocket will have a lift capacity of about 5 tons to low Earth orbit. Pricing is likely to begin at $45 million per launch.
Nanoracks plans to re-purpose Cyclone-4M stages. Speaking of launches from Nova Scotia, Houston-based Nanoracks announced an agreement Tuesday with Maritime Launch that will allow it to experiment with re-purposing and reusing these spent upper stages. The upper stages have a 4-meter diameter.
… “It’s Nanoracks vision to re-purpose upper stages of launch vehicles and convert them into Outposts,” the company’s chief executive, Jeff Manber, said in a statement. “We envision populating the Solar System with efficient platforms that can serve as hotels, research parks, fuel depots, storage centers, and more.”
Air Force to offer Atlas V as a backup. Is United Launch Alliance hedging its bets on the readiness of its Vulcan rocket? In a decision seen as favorable to the Colorado-based company, the Air Force said, as part of its bidding process for national security launch contracts from 2022 to 2026, companies could offer backup rockets to their main booster. ULA’s chief executive, Tory Bruno, said this week the company is offering Vulcan as the primary vehicle and Atlas 5 as a secondary rocket.
… Meanwhile, Bruno also said any delay to the Air Force awards would have implications for te Department of Defense’s mandate to eliminate the use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine, which powers the company’s Atlas V launch vehicle. Congress has forbidden the government from awarding launch contracts for vehicles that use the engine after 2022. It is not clear how this will ultimately play out, but Congress has shown a willingness to make concessions to ULA along the way. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
Next three launches
Nov. 2: Antares | 13th Cygnus supply mission to the ISS | Wallops Island, Va. | 13:59 UTC
Early Nov.: Falcon 9 | Launch of second batch of 60 Starlink Satellites | Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. | TBD
Nov 22: Ariane 5 | TIBA 1 and Inmarsat 5 F5 communications satellite | Kourou, French Guiana| TBD